by Tab Taber
Author’s Note: October 12th, 2003. My son, George L. Taber V., “Quint” was 11 years old. I applied for and received a youth hunt quota on some good public land about one hour away from where we lived in central Arkansas (Ed Gordon/Point Remove Wildlife Management Area—for my Arkansas friends).
I was excited but had to temper my expectations with the knowledge that our hunt realistically may last all of 2-3 hours. In introducing a young person to hunting you must go at their pace. You don’t want to ruin an early hunt by staying out too long and boring them so much that they never want to go with you again. That was OK, I decided that we would stay out as long as Quint wanted to, and then we would pack it in.
We prepared for a full day though. A portable 2-person ground blind with 2 folding chairs, a good lunch, lots of snacks and drinks- coffee thermos for me, juice boxes for Quint. I tried to forewarn Quint that, unlike squirrel hunting, there would be a lot of sitting and waiting and frankly, boredom. So, he packed his book (I think he was into the adventures of “Hank, the Cowdog” at that point), his sketch pad, and some pencils and crayons. Interestingly, there were no hand-held video games. Quint would play them at friends’ houses but he rarely carried one around with him—and this was long before 11-year-olds had their own phones. We carried his single-shot .243 rifle with a 4X scope which he had proven to be very accurate during our practice shooting sessions. He was a naturally good shot.
We left at zero-dark-thirty, drove to Ed Gordon, packed up our gear, and hiked about ½ mile by flashlight into a location that I had scouted out the weekend before. It was a slight rise overlooking a shallow pond surrounded by tall marsh grasses. We were on a levy of sorts with a nice oak hammock behind us. We settled in, waiting silently for first light, sipping coffee, juice, and munching on Hardee’s Sausage biscuits which we had picked up on our drive in. When the sun slowly rises, nature awakens as well—the squeal and whirrrrrr of wood duck wings overhead ushered in the morning.
This was followed by choruses of songbirds and squirrels perched precariously, chattering away on oak trees boasting their early fall foliage. Quint was excited with silent anticipation. It was the perfect setting for a majestic Arkansas buck, who after chasing a doe during the night might make his way for a drink of water before settling in and taking a rest during daylight hours. Quint was alert, eager for the vivid storyboard in our minds to become reality. Everything was picture perfect except no deer showed up. We engaged in small, whispered chatter, corny jokes, and long comfortable silences. Around mid-morning, while I was content to stay, I figured Quint had enough, so I asked him- “You ready to go, bud? You make the call, and we will pack it in.”
He looked at me with wonderment in his eyes, as if to say, we just got here Dad and you want to go already?
“Let’s stay a little longer,” he said.
“Stay we will then,” I answered, barely containing my inner glee.
I knew that our next best time to see a deer would be in the evening hours. This was before “fall back,” so sunset was at 630pm, still some 8 hours away. So, we took turns, “on watch” with the other reading, drawing, snacking, and napping on the poncho liner quilt that made up our blind floor. Around noon, we went out for about a 45-minute “walkabout”–probably not a good decision on an opening day public hunt, but this was a “youth hunt” specifically for young, under 16-year-old hunters. So, if we saw anyone else it would be another parent/child combo out doing the same thing we were.
We never saw another soul. We donned our blaze orange and walked around, stretching our cramped legs, and got our sleepy blood flowing. We checked out a few alternate blind locations in case we wanted to move our setup for the afternoon hunt. After some consultation and discussion, we decided that we liked our current “waterfront” location. We enjoyed a hearty lunch in the blind and continued into the afternoon spending it in much the same way as the morning hours–quietly watching and reading, sprinkled with light conversation. Once more, I asked him if he was ready to go and he said he wanted to stay until the sun went down.
True to the earth’s spinning courses, the afternoon shadows started lengthening. The sun set, darkness dimmed the senses, and at last light, four shaded silhouettes materialized from nowhere. We didn’t see any antlers but that was OK. Bucks and does are allowed during a youth hunt, so we focused on the largest outline as it paused. Quint slowly raised his rifle up on the crossed bamboo sticks used for a rest. We went through the litany of motions we rehearsed a dozen times that day with no round in the chamber.
“OK, see that squirrel over there? Slowly raise your rifle and put it in the rest with no noise. OK, pull the hammer back.”
“OK, take a deep breath, release… are you still on the squirrel? Yes, slowly squeeze the trigger.”
Click. The hammer fell.
“Stay on the gun. How did it feel? Did the sight picture jerk when the trigger pulled? Good shot? Yes. OK. Great job.”
This time was the same, except that a live .243 round was inserted in the chamber. It was go time.
“Are you on it?” I asked.
He nodded in silent assent, “Ok, let her take one more step, wait, remember-breathe slowly, release, and squee….”
Twilight was suddenly illuminated by a bright muzzle flash. Ears ringing, deer flushed and scattered in all four directions. Temporarily blinded, I couldn’t tell if it was a good hit or not. With hushed excitement, I asked Quint, “How did you feel about the shot?”
“It felt good, just like we practiced, and the target was much bigger than a squirrel.”
“Good job!” We grinned in the gathering darkness.
We should have waited a little while letting things settle down before checking for post-shot evidence, but we were losing light quickly. It would soon be pitch dark. We went to where the doe was last standing and found deep hoof prints from where she bolted. But no blood. With headlamps on, we worked outward in small circles, looking for a sign—OK, good blood here, looks like a solid hit, but which way did she go?
There were deer tracks everywhere in the soft marsh mud, and we couldn’t;t find any more blood in the shallow water. Nor could we scan ahead looking for a white belly. Since the grass was chest high, we could only see what was at our feet. We searched, now wet and cold in the tall grass, seeing only through the narrow cone of our headlamps. We were disoriented in the light and dark, perplexed, shivering, and easily turned around in the marshy terrain. After nearly an hour we gave up. It was a Sunday and Quint had school the next morning. He was upset and disappointed.
“What if I just wounded her and she is hurt?” he asked with tears pooling in his eyes.
“I’m certain that you made a good shot. I will be out there at first daylight, and we’ll find your deer.”
“Can I go with you?” he pleads.
“No, you need to be at school, but I will let you know as soon as I find it. I promise.”
I slept fitfully that night, reliving the shot over and over and trying to piece together context clues I may have missed in the excitement of the moment. I was up way before my alarm went off. It was Monday morning, a normal workday for me, but my job allowed for a bit of flexibility. So I returned to our hunting spot as the sun rose. With the aid of daylight, the story quickly became clear. Quint did indeed make a great shot. Hit in the vitals, the doe bolted and ran about 40 yards and never moved again. I found our footprints from the night before just yards away from the deer, but we just could not see it in the darkness. But I found it! Praise God and Hallelujahs!
I placed my hand on the doe’s flank, saying a brief prayer of Thanksgiving for her sacrifice and for the healthy meals she would provide for our family. And also for the rare opportunity to be an active participant in the circle of life and to be able to share this experience with my son. I could not wait to see his face when he saw his first deer. It would boost his confidence and make him proud that his patience and practice paid off.
But in my eagerness to find the deer, I had not fully thought through the logistics of that morning. I was ½ mile away from my truck and a long way to drag even a field dressed 100 pound plus mature doe and I had left my wheelbarrow at home. I considered skinning and quartering the deer on site and carrying out the meat, but I needed Quint to see his first deer personified, not in the form of fleshy hindquarters in a cooler on ice. Also, to calm his fears of wounding the deer, I needed him to see for himself his perfect shot, squarely placed right behind the front shoulder.
So, I marked the spot with a bandana, walked back to my truck, drove to the nearest hardware store about 35 minutes away, bought a new wheelbarrow, drove back to my parking area, wheeled the barrow to the deer, loaded up, and wheeled the deer back to my truck, still not an easy task through mud and thick forests. This all took hours, but it mattered not. Quint would see his deer one way or the other.
By now it was early afternoon. I went to Quint’s school, checked him out early, and brought him home to see his hard-earned deer. The grin on his face made all the time and effort infinitely worthwhile. So, what I learned about my son that day was his patience, his contentment to just be, and his ability to defer gratification even at a very young age. I would not have expected him to stay with me in a cramped blind for 13 hours at age 11. But he did and the results were lasting and the memories sweet.
As I look back, nearly 8 months since his death, that day was a gift from God that I will always cherish, and that memory is now one of Quint’s many enduring parting gifts to me.
Love you and miss you, Bud! See ya at the top….
Tab Taber is the father of SSG George Taber, a Green Beret Medical Sergeant from 7th Group who passed away during a violent storm on Mt Yonah while at the Mountain phase of Ranger school in August 2022.
Tab journals to process his grief and to recollect memories of his son. Occasionally he shares his written thoughts with others on The Havok Journal and on Instagram @gltiv. Other Havok Journal articles about SSG George Taber include “In 37 Days I Made a Friend Who Became My Brother” and “For Those Mourning Loss This Holiday Season.”
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